Cable Operators

An Island Unto Itself

2/10/2006 7:05 PM Eastern

Puerto Rico often figures in discussions of the U.S. Hispanic market as a footnote, yet it has close to four million residents — larger than the Latino population in every mainland market except Los Angeles and New York.

Part of the challenge for market researchers is that many of the debates on the mainland regarding second-generation Latinos and their degree of integration into the general populace have little relevance on the island. The commonwealth of Puerto Rico is part of the U.S., and those born there are U.S. citizens, so many of the issues regarding of U.S.-born versus foreign-born Hispanics simply do not apply.

“I wouldn’t include Puerto Rico in the U.S. Hispanic market but it isn’t Latin America either,” said Puerto Rican-born Cesar Cruz, president of consulting firm Mi Gente and former multicultural marketing director for Cox Communications Corp.

Market research firm Synovate classifies Puerto Ricans on the island as foreign-born, but Puerto Ricans who live on the mainland as U.S.-born. This approach echoes the Census Bureau’s somewhat confusing practice of counting Puerto Ricans who reside in the mainland as Hispanics but not those who live on the island.

“We actually view Puerto Rico almost as if it were a different country,” Synovate group account director Jim Starks said. The firm treats those who live in Puerto Rico as if they were foreign-born Latinos and classifies them accordingly in their survey results. “We don’t include Puerto Ricans [on the island] because they live their entire lives in Spanish,” Starks added.

Spanish is the primary language of instruction at both public and private schools on the island. According to Mediafax, Spanish is the primary language of television viewing with 90% of the audience watching Univision, Telemundo and Lin TV Corp.-owned Televicentro.

Similarly, most of the music played on local radio is in Spanish, and the most popular genre is the dance music known as reggaeton. Reggaeton originated in Panama, but Puerto Rican musicians have been a driving force behind its popularity. While still a long way from dethroning regional Mexican music as the best-selling Latin genre, reggaeton accounted for five of the top ten albums and seven of the top ten singles on Billboard’s Latin chart for the week ended Feb. 3. The spread of Clear Channel’s Hurban (Hispanic urban) and Univision’s La Kalle programming formats are tangible signs of the music’s popularity among second-generation Latinos.

“Reggaeton has become a boom and not only among young people but also those 35 to 49,” said Edwin Pujols, general manager of MTV Puerto Rico, a partnership between Lin and MTV Networks. Not surprisingly, reggaeton music videos make up to 75% of the station’s playlist. “MTV Puerto Rico exists because of our desire to reach a younger [12 to 34] demographic and add something different for the Puerto Rican audience,” said Pujols, referring to the marriage of MTV’s international brand and specifically Puerto Rican content.

While acknowledging differences between the Puerto Rican and mainland Hispanic markets, Mediafax vice president Victor Vazquez highlights at least one similarity: “They both like novelas,” the popular Spanish-language soap operas, which are the number one program genre in the mainland Hispanic market as well as in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico at a Glance
Population: 3.9 million*
Cable penetration: 29%
Satellite penetration: 14%
Broadcast advertising: $230 million
Cable advertising: $15 million
Source: Mediafax
* 2005 annual population estimate by Census Bureau

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